In most kitchens, spices are a common feature. One may have an ample collection or simply stock the basics. However, did you know some spices can actually be grown at home?
A lot of spices travel long distances before reaching the kitchen, growing spices at home will be the freshest one can get to add delicious flavours to dishes, while practising your hobby and connecting to the growing cycle.
Here are the 10 spices one can grow at home.
Cumin has a rich taste, earthy and warm with an edge of citrus. This spice adds instant depth to a dish.
“Use ground cumin instead of whole seeds in recipes if you want the flavour to diffuse evenly throughout,” says Peter Kimani, who farms spices in Kiambu.
He adds: “The common type of cumin has a brown hue but if you want to taste different varieties, with each one offering their own nuances in flavour, plant black, green, or white cumin.”
How to grow: Sow seeds in loose, fertile soil. Cumin thrives in hot places with a lot of sunlight. Seeds are harvested after the pink or white flowers bloom. Cumin seeds are picked when they are brown and then dried. You can also grind the seeds if you prefer cumin powder.
How to use: Cumin is often added as a seasoning for meats, vegetables, chilies, dressings, rice, soups as well as breads and pastries.
“Coriander is both a herb and a spice. In some countries, coriander is the seed that is produced at the end of the plant cycle and the leaves are known as cilantro,” says Kimani.
Dhania not only adds to the flavour of a dish but also lends it a very appetising aroma.
How to Grow: Plant seeds in fertile, well-drained soil and seedlings will sprout after a week. Cilantro prefers partial shade and does well in cool weather. You can enjoy the leaves in many dishes. The seeds will be ready to harvest around 40 to 50 days and you’ll need to dry them before storing.
Dill is both a herb and spice. Fresh dill is known as dill weed and the feathery leaves can be eaten. Dill seed is the name for the spice.
In addition to culinary uses, dill is rich in several nutrients and has traditionally been used to treat various ailments, including digestive issues, colic in infants, and bad breath, says Kimani.
How to Grow: Dill prefers full sun and thrives in soil with plenty of compost. You can grow it indoors as long as it gets enough sunlight.
If you want a continual harvest, plant every two to three weeks. You can eat the leaves around two and a half months.
“Harvest the seeds when they are dry, flat, and oval in shape, usually after three months,” says Kimani.
How to Use: Dill seed is often used in pickling or fermenting, such as dill pickles and sauerkraut, in grain dishes, as a spice for vegetables, and in breads.
Mustard seeds comes in different varieties including black, brown, yellow, or white. Each type has its own distinct flavour. Mustard is both a leafy green and a spice.
How to Grow: You can sow directly in the soil or start indoors in containers in colder climates. Mustard prefers cooler weather and well-drained, fertile soil with organic matter.
“Water often and ensure the soil is moist but not soggy,” says Kimani.
In addition to using the seeds, the leaves can be eaten too. When pink or white flowers form on the plant and the leaves begin to brown, one can snip the flowers for drying.
Place them in a paper bag to let the seed pods continue to mature. Pods will open within a week or two when you can gently shake the bag so the seeds come loose, which makes them easy to collect.
How to Use: Mustard seeds, especially the yellow or white variety, are common in pickling and curry recipes, to make your own condiment, as well as being powdered. Seeds are often cooked briefly in oil to bring out the flavour.
Chillies are extremely simple to grow at home as they do not require any fancy gardening equipment. Since a single plant can give you up to a 100 chillies, they are a perfect addition to the kitchen garden, especially since they grow really well in containers and planters.
How to grow: Take your favourite type of chilli pepper, slice it and remove all the seeds. Spread the seeds on a paper napkin and let them dry for two to three days.
Wet the seeds nicely and sow them in soil at a depth of about two to three centimetres. The chilli seeds will germinate in about one week.
Water them every alternate day, keep the soil moist and make sure they are not exposed to harsh winds or strong sun.
“When the seeds germinate and you’ll see two small leaves on the surface of the soil within 7-10 days of planting the seeds,” says Kimani.
He adds: “Once the chilli is about five to seven centimetres long you can pluck it to cook with it. However, if you want it to be spicier you can leave it on the plant itself. If you leave them long enough on the plant, the green chilli peppers will eventually turn red. The redder it gets, the hotter it the chilli is.”
Note: Please make sure that you’re always wearing gloves while handling chillies and their seeds. Avoid touching your eyes, face and any sensitive skin, and always wash your hands afterwards.
Ginger is one of the most used spices in the world and comes in numerous forms, including fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, crystallised and powdered or ground. It is an essential flavour in the vast majority of dishes as well as the popular hot beverage, dawa and masala tea.
How to grow: Slice off the fingers, making sure each rhizome piece is one to two inches long with at least one bud. Allow the pieces to dry for 24 to 48 hours before planting, as this helps to control for possible root rot. Plant cut sections at least 12 inches apart no deeper than one inch.
Water well after planting. Leaves will emerge after about one week. Water sparingly but deeply after you see growth. Ginger takes eight to ten months to mature.
Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow colour. It has been used for years as both a spice and medicinal herb. Turmeric is easy to grow if you have a sunny spot to put a large pot or planter.
How to grow: Cut your rhizomes into sections, with two or three buds on each section. Fill three-inch pots halfway with a good soil. Lay the rhizome sections flat on the soil, and cover with more soil.
“Water well and slip the pots into clear plastic bags. Place the pots or clamshells in the warmest place you can find,” says Kimani.
Garlic or Allium sativum is a very easy bulb to grow indoors or outdoors. All it takes is separating the cloves and sticking them into moist, well-draining soil.
How to grow: You can start the bulbs indoors any time of the year. Longer growing season gives the plants enough time to develop good-sized bulbs.
Keep the soil evenly moist, but water logging can result in bulb rot. The leaves of the garlic can be used as an herb, but snipping them too often can affect the bulb size. The mature bulbs can be harvested when the leaves start to wilt. Dig up all the bulbs and dry them until the outer covering feels papery.
Onions are counted as vegetables, but dried onion powder can be an excellent spice to add to all kinds of dishes. Onions come from the same family as garlic and leeks.
How to grow: You can grow onions from seeds or sets. Plant them in shallow tubs of rich potting soil and keep them moist at all times, but not too wet.
“As the bulbs develop underground, they push themselves through the soil surface, indicating when they are ready to be harvested. You can wait until the leaves wilt to allow the bulbs to attain maximum size,” says Kimani.
Pull up the onions and hang them up to dry until the outer layer crinkles like paper.
Saffron obtained by drying the stigmas of the mountain crocus (Crocus sativus) and is one of the priciest spices. If you can grow your own, there is nothing like it. Crocus bulbs are prone to rotting in wet weather, so growing them indoors is your best bet.
How to grow: Crocus corms are the planting material, you have to source them from reputed nurseries. Prepare the pots by filling sand or gravel into the bottom of the pots to ensure good drainage.
Add rich, well-draining potting mix on top of the sand layer. Push two to three crocus corms into the soil and cover them up with more sand and soil mixture.
Place the crocus pots in a cool room and provide a few hours of direct sun. The crocus plants that grow from the bulbs will start to wilt after a while.
Moving the pots to a warmer room will trigger flowering. Collect the three red stigmas from each flower and dry them on a piece of parchment paper. Store them in dry containers and use a few strands at a time to add flavour and colour to rice-based dishes.